Although family history is becoming increasingly high-tech, there are those days when we wish we had a genie in a lamp.
After hours of fruitless searching for what seems to be a non-existent direct ancestor - although we know they MUST have existed or we wouldn't be here looking for them - it would be great to just grab that lamp, rub it a few times (depending on the version of the folktale you follow) and ask the emerging genie for help.
Genealogy conferences might feature workshops titled "The care and feeding of your genie," "Getting your genie online," or "Polishing the lamp: Keep your genie happy."
According to folklore, of course, the problem is asking the correct three wishes, and we look forward to experts presenting workshops on techniques for constructing them.
Something else to consider: Would there be a difference between asking a polite question or giving a command to "dig up" the information we need? Does the word "wish" need to be included?
"Could you please find Uncle Melvin's birthdate" might bring a very different result from commanding the genie to "I wish you would bring me Uncle Melvin."
What are the three most urgent questions that your genie could help answer?
In a move that could be a real moneymaker - and thus an incentive to provide genealogical services - for many additional countries, Ireland will begin providing Irish Heritage certificates by the end of 2010.
There are some 70 million individuals worldwide with Irish heritage, and this seems like a great way to show it. The certificate may also provide travel and tourist discounts when the certificate-holders visit Ireland.
Students in a free genealogy class at a Sacramento, California library used historic fire insurance maps to walk through their community's 19th-century history without leaving the classroom, according to this story in the Sacramento Bee.
Instructor Melinda Kashuba said these maps are "obscure resource that can let a person's mind wander down the streets of their forebears," and that researchers can learn a lot about the lives of their ancestors.
Here's an example, above left; for the larger image, see below.
These maps indicate schools, churches, businesses and more. All provide additional leads for researchers, according to Kashuba.
An 1898 map of North Bloomfield shows that the area between Main Street and a nearby creek was where Chinese workers lived.
A map of Truckee from the late 19th century said the area between a hillside and West Main Street was lined with "female boarding houses," or brothels, Kashuba said.
Mapmakers had noted that a brewery in Mokelumne Hill was lit by candles and had no night watchman, making it a poor insurance risk, she said.
What makes me even happier - in addition to teaching beginners how to use these maps - is that the class was part of the library's free genealogy program. Future classes will focus on finding New England ancestors and researching church records
The fire insurance maps - a main publisher was the Sanborn Map Co. (Pelham, New York) - were printed 1860-1940, and provided insurance companies data to determine fire risks of buildings and neighborhoods, without having to send an underwriter on a personal visit. The maps were the equivalent of today's Google views.